"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Musharraf quits; suspense mounts on his next move

From the Times of India.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's decision to resign on Monday brings to an end a tumultuous nine-year reign that thrived with US backing, but succumbed under impeachment threat following the first free and fair elections he conducted after grabbing power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

During his resignation speech, Musharraf said,

"I don't want anything from anybody. I have no interest. I leave my future in the hands of the nation and people," he said. One main coalition party, that of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whom Musharraf ousted in 1999, has insisted he face trial for treason. Bhutto's party says parliament should decide. Musharraf ended his final address as president with the words: "May God protect Pakistan, may God protect you all. Long live Pakistan forever."

Given the current situation in Pakistan, this was the smartest move for Musharraf. His resignation will take away a major issue within the newly elected government and decrease Al Qaeda's/the Taliban's ability to use Musharraf's continued presence as a political tool.

However, with Musharraf out of the way, it will be seen whether the coalition between PPP and PML-N can survive or whether infighting between these two disparate parties will break out. In addition, it will be interesting to see if these parties can now band together to meet the Al Qaeda/Taliban threat in the FATA region.

For a full read, click here.

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Where is Pakistan Heading?

From Farhana Ali writing for the Counterterrorism Blog.

Last month, I traveled from Islamabad to Peshawar and then headed north to Kashmir. To understand where Pakistan is today and where it is heading, I presented the following briefing to the U.S. Congress.

Today, there is cautious level of enthusiasm and hope in the country, made evident by the February 18th election results which confirmed the popularity of the country's two main centrist parties. It would be an understatement to say that the Pakistani public desires change, and hope that the new civilian government, which convened in Parliament this month, will be able to mitigate the rising threat of suicide attacks. The new government has a great burden and responsibility to counter the threats from the Pakistani Taliban, local emirs / commanders in the northwest province, and the terrorists' claim to Pakistan's settled territories, such as Swat.

Pakistanis have selected and been granted a democracy. They hope the democracy will be able to tame the militants in their country. Most importantly, Farhana Ali points out a changing attitude among Pakistanis.

Based on my recent trip, it seems to me that an issue of great importance revolves around perceptions of the war on terrorism. How is the war perceived by the general public and established elites? With militants' largely striking Pakistanis, as opposed to Westerners in the country, the Pakistani public is now beginning to view the U.S.-led war on terror as "their" war; there is general acceptance that this battle that can only be won in the long-run with support from the local population to root out criminal and terrorists from within their families, neighborhoods, and communities. According to a prominent editor of the Daily Times, winning the war on terrorism in Pakistan will required the support of "the people a a whole." [Emphasis Added]

This is an important shift in thinking from the immediate years following 9/11, when any military operation or counter-terrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan was regarded as being driven by the United States for American strategic interests.

The key change in attitude which is happening in Pakistan is a result of Al Qaeda's heavy handedness in the region. Originally, Pakistani thought the war against terrorism was something which was thrust upon them due to neighboring Afghanistan's support for Al Qaeda. Now with Al Qaeda routed out of Afghanistan (for the most part), Al Qaeda is attempting to turn the tribal areas into a sanctuary. In doing so, they are alienating the population which while extremely religious, are not extremists. People in the region listen to western music and watch western movies. They go to barber shops. Women are actively engaged in the tribal family. Al Qaeda seeks to destroy these freedoms.

As such, people in the region are beginning to realize Al Qaeda and the Taliban are against them. Al Qaeda, once again, is wearing out its welcome by imposing its strict interpretation of Islam. Farhana Ali notes how the US can assist Pakistan in its war on terror. His analysis is interesting indeed and coincides with Musharraf's multi-pronged strategy to deal with militancy in his country.

As stated before, whether or not Musharraf survives as president, he has set into motion the instruments of national power to deal with militancy in his country.

1. He has established a democracy which militants abhor.

2. He has established Regional Coordinating Officers, District Coordinating Officers, and Tribal Agents in the tribal areas to give representation to tribes within the governmental structure.

3. He has established an economic package to enhance the quality of life in the tribal regions. He plans to bring in industry and economic activity into this region.

4. Finally, he is battling militancy within his country using the military.

All these factors, taken together, will isolate and reduce the influence of extremists in the region.

For a full read, click here.

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Unprecedented Coalition strike nails the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

From the Long War Journal.

A decisive Coalition strike against a high-level meeting of Taliban-linked insurgents on March 12 took place one and a half kilometers inside Pakistani territory, US military officials have confirmed to The Long War Journal. Several precision-guided munitions struck a compound owned by a senior member of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban splinter group that is based in the Pakistani tribal state of North Waziristan. The strike occurred shortly after multiple intelligence sources confirmed the presence of the group’s upper echelon inside the compound. Several other high-level Haqqani commanders, including Sirajjudin Haqqani, had planned to attend this meeting, intelligence sources confirmed.

Many more strikes are occuring of Pakistani soil. This is the third strike in two months. We are beginning to see the start of increased coordination between Musharraf and Coalition forces in the region to disrupt the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal regions.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan opposition parties win over independents to tighten grip on parliament

From Dawn.

Parties opposed to President Musharraf have won the allegiance of 11 lawmakers who contested last month's elections as independents, the election commission said Friday. Seven independents have joined Pakistan People’s Party while four have lined up with Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, according to a breakdown provided by the commission. No lawmakers have joined pro-Musharraf parties. The election commission said 18 parliamentarians will remain independent after Thursday's deadline to sign up for a party. The cutoff also triggered the allocation of additional seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. PPP now has 120 lawmakers in the 342-seat National Assembly, the commission said. The PML-N has 90, while the PML-Q has 51. The election commission said 11 seats in the National Assembly remain vacant. The results in seven constituencies are in litigation, while voting in three places has been delayed by either security concerns or the death of a candidate. One seat reserved for a woman will be decided by drawing lots because two parties - the PML-Q and an alliance of religious parties - have an equal claim on it.

What is significant here is a PPP and PML-Q coalition now has a majority of the seats in a new coalition. Take this together with the Army's backing of Musharraf and the fact that the PML-Q still maintains a majority in the senate, a coalition between the PPP and PML-Q is a likely prospect as is Musharraf's continuation of the Presidency. Musharraf announced the parliament will be convened within 10 days. The next ten days will see interesting political maneuvering in Pakistan.

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Pakistan: The Light at The End of The Tunnel

From Amir Taheri.

A year ago it was out of the question. A month ago, it looked like a bad bargain for all concerned. A week ago, it loomed on the horizon like a prelude, rather than a substitute, for civil war.

And, yet, last Monday, Pakistanis turned up in millions to confound doomsayers by voting in what now looks like the country's first free and fair general election with results that few would contest.

Mr Taheri goes on to state how the election showed lack of support for Islamists.

The Unified Assembly for Action (MMA), a coalition of Islamists that won almost 11 per cent of the votes in the last general election five years ago saw its share drop to around three per cent. It lost control of the only one of Pakistan's four provinces that it governed. Almost all its principal leaders lost their seats. In the provincial assembly of Sindh, the MMA won no seats.

Worse still, the Islamists' defeat in the Northwest frontier Province came at the hands of the avowedly secularist Awami League Party (ANP) which preaches a form of socialism.

He also notes that the party of the military, PML-Q, Musharraf's party lost.

The message of this election is clear: the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis reject both military rule and its political twin of Islamism. The twins started dominating Pakistani politics in the 1970s when General Zia ul-Haq overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a military coup. Unable to build a popular political base, the general played the Islamist card, using religion as an ideological prop for a corrupt and brutal regime.

What does all this mean?

The formation of a people-based government has always been a basic condition for winning the war against terror in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That condition can now be fulfilled. In political terms, this means a strategic turning of the tide against the terrorists

This election is a nail in the coffin for Al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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PPP breather for Musharraf

From The Statesmen.

In a breather for beleaguered President Pervez Mush-arraf, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has indicated that the new government will not seek his immediate impeachment as western envoys confabulated with leaders here to shore up his position.

Asked whether the new government will move forward to impeach Musharraf, PPP leader and frontrunner for Prime Ministership Mr Makhdoom Am-in Fahim said the party did not wish “to rock the boat” at this stage.“

I think there's no need at the moment but the parliament is sovereign. Once we go to the Parliament, the Parliament will look at every issue. We should not rock the boat at this time. We must have civil transition of power from the military to the civilians,” the 68-year-old Bhutto loyalist told CNN.

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For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan's ruling party concedes defeat

From Yahoo via AP.

Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

The significance of this fact cannot be understated. Musharraf's party, which came to power through a coup, held free and fair elections which resulted in it losing several parlimentary seats. And it has peacefully conceded defeat.

While Sharif is calling on Musharraf to step down, there potentially is no reason for Musharraf to do so according to the numbers.

Geo TV said unofficial tallies from 229 of the 268 National Assembly seats being contested showed Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party with 33 percent and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party with 27 percent. The PML-Q was third with 14 percent.

Thje PML-Q may align itself with the PPP to assist this party in getting a majority through a coalition with other smaller parties effectively pushing the PML-N out of a majority coalition. This idea was surfaced before the election and would allow Musharraf to continue to focus his presidency on defeating the militants while the PPP focuses on the economics of Pakistan. A major sticking point between the PPP and PML-N is that the PML-N supports the Taliban while the PPP is against Islamization of the country, especially in light of Bhutto's assassination by Baitullah Meshud.

Another fact this article brushes over, but is even more significant, is the MMA (pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman) won only eight seats or about 3% of the vote. This is a significant decrease from the 11% it won during the last elections. Not only is support waning for Musharraf's party, but so has support for the Taliban.

Musharraf saw the writing on the wall prior to the elections and spoke of his multi-pronged strategy to defeat the insurgents in his country. This strategy included:

1. Countering terrorism and extremism

2. Transition to democracy

3. The need to sustain socio-economic growth

Musharraf has just helped his country make the transition to democracy in free and fair elections resulting in his party coming in third. He has appointed General Kayani head of the military. General Kayani will ensure the fight is taken to the insurgents. He has transformed Pakistan economically by opening up the country to international trade to include several lucrative oil pipeline deals. He is transforming the FATA and NWFP region with the appointments of Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers (DCOs), and making the offices of the political agents below Governors.

Pakistan's transition to democracy marks the beginning of the end of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The PPP leading a coalition will ensure it demise. The Bhutto assassination assured this fact. Its garnering of only 3% of the vote sealed its fate.

Now it is up to the PPP to convince Pakistanis the battle against the Taliban is not just America's war, but also their own. The over 600 innocent Pakistanis murdered last year by suicide bombers helps the PPP accomplish this mission.

We will soon see if the PPP is up to this task. Aligning the PML-Q with itself will signal its intentions for not only Pakistanis, but also to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

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The Impact of Pashtun Tribal Differences on the Pakistani Taliban

From the Jamestown Foundation.

Though members of militant Islamic groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and other jihadis have almost the same anti-United States and pro-al-Qaeda worldview, they are not especially disciplined when it comes to organizational matters. Difficulty in this area explains the existence of so many extremist factions operating under different leaders and commanders who sometimes express conflicting opinions on domestic and international issues.

President Musharraf is using these tribal loyalties to his government's advantage. As noted in a previous blog, the Pakistani government is establishing below the Governor, Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers (DCOs), and making the offices of the political agents in the NWFP and FATA regions active and functional to accomplish three strategic objectives:

To strengthen the NWFP’s own financial resource base, improve its trade potential by improving its infrastructure and create necessary incentives to attract investment for industrialisation.

What was not mentioned in this Dawn article is the fact that this RCOs, DCOs, and political agents would most likely fall along tribal lines and historical leadership lineages. Bringing tribal leaders into the government may very well allow Musharraf to win over tribal alliances in the FATA and NWFP regions. As noted in the Jamestown Foundation article,

These groups also have regional and local political agendas and are, therefore, under pressure from their tribes and communities not to become involved in wider conflicts that could transform their areas into battlegrounds and contribute to their suffering.

It is precisely this split which Musharraf is trying to harnass to bring the tribal regions under control. Through the establishment of RCOs, DCOs and political agents, Musharraf is attempting to give the tribes a voice within the government and to use the governmental structure to resolve disputes. If two political agents (of say different tribes) have a dispute, then the DCO or RCO could mitigate the issue and provide a win-win situation for both tribes.

In this region tribal differences were solved by warfare which has resulted in this region never prospering, thus becoming ripe for Al Qaeda recruitment. By establishing RCOs, DCOs, and Political Agents, Musharraf is attempting to resolve differences within the governmental structure, lessen disputes, and bring economic investment to this region.

As we see the Musharraf government pursuing peace accords with tribes in the FATA and NWFP region, one must understand Musharraf is doing no different than US forces have done with Sunni tribes in Iraq.

One cannot win an insurgency by killing it. One can only win an insurgency by bringing less violent elements of the insurgency back into the government. Musharraf's plan supplies the structure to do this very thing. Musharraf is hoping the differing regional and local political agendas of the tribes will provide the impetus for them to join vice fight the government.

Once the tribes stop supporting Al Qaeda, it will be easier for Musharraf to deal with this extremist group.

For a full read of the Jamestown Foundation article, click here.

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Pakistan's New Breed of Ruthless Leaders

From Susanne Koelbl writing for Spiegel.

A new generation of Taliban fighters has taken over in Pakistan's tribal regions near the Afghan border. Their ruthless leader is believed to have been involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

When an underling disobeys him, Baitullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, fines the offender 1,000 rupees, or about €11, sends him home with needle and thread, and orders him to have someone sew his own shroud within 24 hours. The offender is usually dead by the time the 24 hours are up, executed by the extremist leader's militias.

These are the type of people we are fighting against in the Long War. It is also this new breed of ruthless leaders that President Musharraf now understands he must defeat. Ms. Koelbl continues to show the difference between the older generation of Taliban leaders and the newer generation.

The old mujaheddin who fought in the war against the Soviets and the Taliban who were driven from Afghanistan in 2001, however, still respected the tribal hierarchies and the Pashtuns' rudimentary code of honor. Although it includes blood feuds, it also stringently requires that the innocent -- especially women and children -- be protected. Nowadays, on the other hand, anything done in the name of jihad seems permissible. The cooperative arrangement between al-Qaida and the Taliban has broken ranks with the ultraconservative but ordered world of the tribes living in the regions along the Afghan border. This has led to new tensions, so much so that most traditional tribal leaders are now refusing to cooperate with bin Laden's terrorist network. But members of the young neo-Taliban have used every means available to protect their foreign "guests." In the ensuing power struggle, the new Taliban commanders have already killed more than 250 tribal leaders. (emphasis added)

Not only are the younger Taliban leaders attacking innocent women and children, they are also killing their own who disagree with them. These brutal tactics are causing the Taliban to fracture. President Musharraf is using this fracture to his advantage.

In the meantime, the upstart leader has even challenged the authority of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has criticized the high civilian death toll during recent suicide bombings.

This fracture among the Taliban will continue to grow as will the fracture with older Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to become wider. As Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban turn their sights towards Pakistan, they have activated the 600,000 strong Pakistani Army against them. Where once their rear areas were safe for them to train their soldiers to fight the 100,000 strong Coalition forces in Afghanistan, now they must defend themsleves on several fronts against a much larger combined force.

In addition, the brutal tactics identified above will not help Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban with their support among people in the region. The recent missile strike which killed the top tier Al Qaeda leader, al-Libi, is testament to this fact. While undoubtedly coming from an armed UAV (read US Predator), strikes such as these inside of Pakistan are also typically backed up by intelligence on the ground and other intelligence sources. The International Herald Tribune notes that this missile strike occurred just 1.3 miles from a Pakistani military compound. However, it incorrectly interprets the significance of this fact by noting this shows how entrenched Islamic militants are in Pakistan. The article later also notes the lack of reaction from Pakistanis and the government itself but does not understand its significance.

President Musharraf early on attempted to make peace with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal region only to have peace agreements broken immediately. In response, Musharraf emplaced a pro-western Chief of Army Staff (General Kayani), made General Tariq Majid (who led the attack on the Red Mosque) the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and moved several regular Army Brigades down from Kashmir in late 2007. All of these moves are indicative that Musharraf intends to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. His recent meetings with high level US officials to assist his forces is another indicator of his intentions. Finally, his recent speech against Al Qaeda and the Taliban lays down his overall strategy in the upcoming fight.

If one examines Musharraf's recent speech, it would be noted that he spoke of multi-pronged strategy involving the military to focus on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the political process of transitioning to a democracy (not only in the settled regions of Pakistan, but also in the tribal areas), and socio-economic aspect to enhance commerce within his country to lift the masses out of poverty and dispair.

Al Qaeda's and the Taliban's current fracture and more brutal tactics only makes his job easier. Musharraf has expertly emplaced all instruments of national power for the upcoming military action he now understands he must take against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He has illicited the advantage which US technology and support will give his forces to assist is this battle. While he states unauthorized foreign intervention in Pakistan is unauthorized, he does not speak of authorized foreign intervention. This distinction is clearly evident in the recent lack of governmental reaction to the killing of al-Libi noted above.

However, above all, Musharraf must wait until after 18 February Pakistani elections when the second prong of his strategy is implemented. His country cannot be in all out war or the elctions will not be seen as free and fair effectively giving Al Qaeda and the Taliban a political victory. While Musharraf's PML-Q party will undoubtedly lose seats, the MMA (the consolidated party of the insurgents) will lose significantly more.

To ensure the success of his multi-prong strategy, Musharraf implemented the final leg of his country's national power, namely informational. He successfully accomplished this information operation when he embarked on an eight day visit to several EU nations where he laid out his military, political, and economic strategy to world leaders.

Musharraf and his generals continue for the time being to contain Al Qaeda and the Taliban. When advances are made by the Pakistan Army, it is only to contain these elements so that Pakistani's can freely make their decision as to Pakistan's future on 18 February. After the elections, Musharraf and his generals will have shaped the battlefield and international community properly to begin decisive operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban while at the same time giving freedom and democracy to his country.

The end result of Musharraf's actions will be significantly reduced fighting this spring in Afghanistan, Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda routed from Pakistan, an orderly transition to democracy, followed by signficant economic growth. It is no wonder that when asked by a reporter about possible covert operations by Americans in the region, Musharraf responds,

"The United States seems to believe that it can do something that our army cannot," he says. "This assessment is completely wrong."

It is notable that Ms. Koelbl breaks Musharraf's quote up and implies Musharraf is stating the United States' assessment is wrong. When looking at Musharraf's strategy to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban and his behind the scenes dealings with the US forces for technological support with this effort, it seems more correct that Musharraf is stating Ms. Koelbl's "assessment in completely wrong."

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Pakistani Taliban grows bolder, taking fight to doorstep of frontier city

From Yahoo via McClatchy.

Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach across all seven of Pakistan's frontier tribal regions and have infiltrated Peshawar , the provincial capital, heightening U.S. concerns that an insurrection may be broadening in the nuclear-armed nation.

US officials believe the Pakistani Taliban are not just coordinating their actions, but are formenting an insurrection in Pakistan with Al Qaeda coordinating the actions.

"These are not groups of Pashtun brigands popping potshots at army patrols," he said. "This looks like there is clearly coordination going on. This looks like an effort that appears to have been planned."

This insurrection has a two-fold purpose. First, Al Qaeda is trying to disrupt supply lines from Pakistan to US forces in Afghanistan.

The increased fighting also has U.S. officials worried about possible threats to supply lines to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan , which stretch from Karachi through the tribal territories, the State Department official said.

Secondly, Al Qaeda is attempting to relieve pressure on the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.

"The militants are trying to put pressure on the Pakistani army so the military campaign in Waziristan is either called off or the attention is diverted," Yusufzai said.

However, these are just tactical objectives, but the strategic goal must not be forgotten. The overall goal of the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda is to instill fear in the population to gain their tacit support which will weaken Musharraf and the Army, so they can eventually take over Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal. They have accomplished instilling fear which gives them tacit support as noted by a professor at the Peshawar University.

"I almost don't go anywhere now, just to my office and my home," he said.

A few weeks ago, Taliban sympathizers briefly set up a booth at the school to collect money. The group is illegal, but police didn't stop them.

"People are afraid to confront them," said Ijaz Khan , another scholar at the university. (emphasis added)

And they have weakened Musharraf and the Army, putting both on the defensive.

Momentum by the Pakistani Taliban has thrown President Pervez Musharraf on the defensive over the army's ability to fight radicalization of his country....

But senior army officers are clearly uneasy about fighting fellow Pakistanis.

"These people are not our enemies. . . . These people have been misguided," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said in an interview.

It remains to be seen whether the fighting will intensify enough to where Musharraf postpones elections. If he does, the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda will have won another strategic victory.

However, intense fighting in across the tribal agencies has also limited the Taliban's and Al Qaeda's freedom of action. February 18th is the key date. Pakistani Army forces are conducting containing operations in the tribal agencies until the election is over in the hope to stem the insurrection that is taking place in Pakistan. Once the elections are over, I suspect the Pakistani Army will attack the Mehsud tribe and Al Qaeda wholesale.

The questions become can Musharraf and General Kayani keep their country together for another three weeks by stemming the rise of this Taliban insurrection so they can hold successful, free, and fair elections?

If elections are held, the next question becomes can Musharraf thwart attempts to impeach him and keep the political structure in tact so he and the newly elected government can focus on the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

So far, it seems that Musharraf can keep the country together and has played his card well minus postponement of the elections for such a long time. Unfortunately, only time will tell whether on not he postponed them too long.

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Pakistani tanks, choppers kill dozens of militants: army

From Yahoo/AFP.

Pakistani troops backed by tanks and gunships cleared militant hideouts near the Afghan border amid fierce fighting that left eight troops and 40 rebels dead, the army said Thursday.

Thirty militants have also been arrested during clashes over the past 24 hours in the South Waziristan tribal district, the hideout of an Islamist commander accused of masterminding the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistani forces have launched a major operation against extremist positions following days of gunbattles in the barren region, which the United States has identified as a key lair of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban a bigger problem than al Qaeda, Musharraf says

From South Asia News visa Monsters and Critics.

The Afghan-based fundamentalist Islamic group Taliban is a bigger problem for the stability of Pakistan than the al Qaeda terrorist network, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Tuesday in Paris.

'When the army battles with al Qaeda now, the number of (al Qaeda)casualties are in the single digits, three or four,' Musharraf said, suggesting that Osama bin Laden's network had been decimated. 'But the Taliban is a more serious issue.'

This change of position in Musharraf is significant in that he has steadfastly been opposed to foreign miscreants (Al Qaeda), but has consistently taken a less obtrusive tone against the Taliban.

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Director of Pak Intelligence Bureau shot dead

From newKerala.

A director of the Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, Nisar Khan, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in Seerikh village adjoining Mohmand tribal district in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Khan was killed near his home when he was returning home after offering early morning prayers at a local mosque, the police said.

The attackers came in a white car, shot Nisar Khan and abducted the prayer leader of the mosque who was walking with him," said Momin Khan, a local police official.

The victim was rushed to a hospital in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP, but he was declared brought dead by doctors, the Dawn quoted the police official, as saying.

The fleeing assailants released the prayer leader on the way, he added.

Who would do such a thing?

1. Pakistani Government. Why? The director is supporting Al Qaeda and the Taliban against the government. Why not just remove the director? Because he is a highly placed political official. While not know if this is the Nisar Khan being talked about, a Nisar Khan was cited on Nawaz Sharif’s first aborted attempt to return home in September 2007. In addition, a Nisar Khan is noted to be a leader in the party of PML-N, Sharif's party. Musharraf and the PML-Q would be at the top of the list if it was expected for the PML-N to get a large percentage of the votes on the 18 Februrary elections. However, this projection does not seem to be the case. In addition, if this Nisar Khan was so anti-Musharraf, why did not Musharraf sack him with judges during emergency rule?

2. Al Qaeda/Taliban. Why? Nisar Khan was no longer supporting Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban and was in fact beginning to provide intelligence on their locations in FATA and NWFP.

3. PML-N. Why? He must have fallen from favor in this party. What did he do to fall from favor in this party? Possibly turn agains the PML-N, which has supported Al Qaeda/Taliban in the past and has sided with Musharraf?

A more detailed analysis of Nisar Khan and the circumstances surrounding his death need to be conducted to see who killed him and why.

More to follow as this story develops.

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Hunt for Baitullah Provokes more Reprisals - International Terrorism Monitor

From South Asia Analysis Group. A great update on events in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities, including President Pervez Musharraf, continue to be convinced that the assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, was masterminded by Baitullah Mehsud ( stated to be 32 years old), the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who is the head of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. Baitullah himself has strongly denied this and accused the Pakistani Army of spreading disinformation in order to divert attention away from the alleged involvement of military officers in the assassination. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir has not accepted the claim of the Government. It claims that before Benazir's assassination Baitullah had sent a message to her through an intermediary that he would pose no threat to her.

For a full read, click here.

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Musharraf's dangerous liaisons

Olivier Guitta, writing for the Middle East Times comments on Musharraf's complicity in the Bhutto assassination.

Benazir Bhutto's recent assassination most likely by Islamist elements, most likely linked to the Taliban, is the latest proof of how central Pakistan is in the war against radical Islam. Bhutto's supporters were quick to blame Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf for her death. While it would be a stretch to see Musharraf's hand behind the plot, it is nonetheless clear that the president has some responsibility. First and foremost because of his dangerous liaisons with Islamists.

In another article for the Middle East Times, Mr. Guitta notes,

But the corps does not seriously fight the Taliban. Testimonies of Frontier Corps troops reveal that insurgents freely cross the border to fight the jihad in Afghanistan and return without hindrance. Furthermore, the populations house and feed them. Numerous locals actually join the underground. Also, Pakistani soldiers sometimes provide medical treatment when they return injured.

Some Frontier Corps fighters say that the army could finish off the Taliban in one day if it wanted to, but that the military commanders do not give the order to do so. Instead, they tell the troops that killing locals would create problems all over the country.

I concur with Mr. Guitta's assessment to a certain extent. The Pakistani government and the ISI made the Taliban with the expressed objective of limiting disruptive warlord influence in Afghanistan. Musharraf did not reign in the Taliban upon seizing power in 1999 and in fact continued to support their efforts. One can understand why when looking at the geopolitical climate in Pakistan. In short, with Iran and Afghanistan to its west and India to it east, Pakistan was surrounded by countries wishing it harm from its perspective. The Taliban were created to fight an insurgency with Iran and Afghanistan while his Army was positioned in the Kashmir region to prevent Indian aggression. But one cannot look at a moment in time to understand the underlying political dynamics of a country or region. One must look over time to get a general sense of geopolitical dynamics.

The fact that the Taliban were able to seize control of Afghanistan in 1996 caused the Pakistani government to increase their support to the Taliban under Sharif. The Taliban had effectively eliminated one rival country and was causing all sorts of issues in Iran, effectively keeping this theocracy, and its influence at bay in the Balochistan region so Musharraf could mine the vast mineral wealth of this region and build a vast warm water port at Gwadar to increase commerce to/from Pakistan.

However, all this changed on 9/11. Shortly after attacks on the World Trade Center, Musharraf was visited by Mr. Armitage who gave him the ultimatum that he can either join the US in it fight against terror or go down with the terrorists. For his part, Musharraf begin to assist the US.

However, one cannot change a country's political climate overnight. I also do not believe the Frontiers Corps can finish off the Taliban in one day as expressed for several reasons.

First and foremost, Alexander tried for several years to militarily defeat the Pushtan tribes in this region only to later negotiate a truce with them. So too did the British many years later. After waging a battle in this region from 2002 to 2006, Musharraf, like generals before him, negotiated a truce in the hopes of establishing neutrality in this region. However, this truce failed.

Secondly, since Pakistan created the Taliban, it would be hard to destroy them since they are part and parcel of the Pakistani government. It takes time to change attitudes within a government. While it can be argued that Masharraf could have cleaned house in the Army immediately after 9/11, this purge would have caused the Army to fracture, leaving Pakistan vulnerable to attacks from the Taliban internally, or Iran and India externally.

One thing he could do was to slowly but surely reduce their influence. He has/had three methods to accomplish this feat. First, he began a military campaign against the Taliban from 2002 through 2006 in the hope of weakening them to such an extent that their influence would be limited to the FATA and NWFP regions. Arguably, this worked to a certain extent until he negotiated a cease fire in all these regions and they began to reconstitute their forces. Being resentful of the last four years of war, the Taliban begin to look inward to Pakistan.

Secondly, he could control who makes rank in the Army. By slowly passing over pro-Taliban officers in his Army, he could diminish their influence. His appointment of General Kayani to succeed him as Commander of the Army is one example of this change. General Kayani, for his part, immediately changed out several higher officers in the Army and has recently told the Army to stay out of politics.

Another method Musharraf has pursued is to transition his country towards democracy. His first effort at this increased Islamists in the government in which the MMA was able to get 11% of the vote in 2002, the third highest. One can understand Musharraf's apprehension in using democracy to bring Pakistan into the modern age and help him to destroy the Taliban given their popularity both with the people and in the government.

However, with the Taliban's recent internal attacks, especially the Bhutto assassination, Musharraf may now have the opportunity to deal decisively with the Taliban as their support wains. Better relations with India has allowed him to pull tens of thousands of troop from Kashmir to the FATA and NWFP regions. Appointment of General Kayani, a pro-western and apolitical leader will allow Musharraf to go after the Taliban with assistance from the United States. However, nothing can be started until the elections are over on 18 February. At this time, we will see a concerted effort against the Taliban, either by Musharraf in conjunction with a coalition of the PPP or PML-N or by the Army itself if the PPP and/or PML-N forces Musharraf out of office.

Either way, we will have to wait until after 18 February to see which direction Pakistan goes.

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Tribesmen raising anti-Al Qaeda Lashkar

Dawn is reporting of major rift between Al Qaeda in tribes in South Waziristan.

Thousands of armed tribesmen of South Waziristan met here on Wednesday, vowing to organise a Lashkar to hunt down Al Qaeda-linked militants blamed for killing nine of their kinsmen.

The tribal jirga in Wana came three days after militants stormed two offices and killed nine tribal elders of a government-sponsored peace committee.

The jirga ordered tribesmen from every household belonging to the Wazir tribe to come to Wana with arms to prepare for action, a local official said.

"One man from each house should come to Wana with a gun at 10am on Thursday to plan our defence and act against those who are responsible for disorder," tribal chief Malik Ghaffar told the gathering.

Wazir tribe chief Maulvi Nazir, who earned fame after he drove out hundreds of Uzbeks from the region last year in bloody clashes, is expected to address the Lashkar on Thursday.

He did not turn up at Wednesday’s meeting but had earlier blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a local Al Qaeda commander and leader of the rival Mehsud tribe, for the killing of the peace committee members.

Residents have reported that announcements have been made on a public address system asking Mehsud tribesmen to "leave Wana to avoid losses".

Baitullah Mehsud is accused by the government of masterminding a spate of suicide attacks in the country, including the December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi. Mehsud has denied any involvement in the killing.

Local sources told AFP his tribe was preparing a jirga to negotiate with the Wazir tribe to avoid a confrontation

A couple of significant notes here:

1. This is the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda. This is their sole remaining base of operations. Now locals have not only stopped supporting them, but if this report is to be believed, a jirga is being convened to actively go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

2. It notes that Baitullah Mehsud is a local Al Qaeda commander. Stories have been coming out stating he was a leader of the united Taliban in Pakistan, but here he is stated to be a local leader of Al Qaeda. Note again, the symbolic shift against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Take these two facts together with an earlier reports that Al Qaeda is attempting to execute a forceful take over of the Taliban, an Afghani Taliban leader switching sides, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah defiance of dismissal by Mullah Omar, and reports of Islamic parties are losing support in Pakistan and we see mounting evidence of a significant fracture between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and between the Taliban themselves.

I reported earlier that Al Qaeda made a grave mistake in assassinating Bhutto. While initially claiming credit for Bhutto's assassination, it was never officially taken credit for due to the uprising of support for Bhutto.

Musharraf used emergency rule to reposition tens of thousand forces from Kashmir to the FATA region. With all this military supporting them, tribal leaders will feel safe confronting Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda took a great risk assassinating Bhutto and bringing its war directly to its base of operations. It saw that it could have possibly gained nuclear weapons to use against the infidel. It now will soon be battling in its sole remaining safe haven.

Not only is Al Qaeda in Iraq defeated, but so is Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and therefore, Al Qaeda in general.

2008 is quickly shaping up to be a great year for people who love freedom. With Pakistani elections on 18 February 2008, it may very well also be a great year for people who love democracy.

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Eight peace-seeking tribal elders shot dead in Pakistan

The Guardian reports today eight Pakistani tribal leaders have been assassinated in South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

Eight tribal leaders attempting to broker a ceasefire in Pakistan's dangerous north-west province have been shot dead by suspected Islamic militants in eight separate killings.

The assassinations began late on Sunday night and continued into the early hours of Monday morning, according to a statement from a security official and the military.

The eight tribal leaders were scheduled to meet each other on Monday in Wana to discuss plans to achieve peace between between security forces and insurgents.

All the attacks happened in South Waziristan, a mountainous region close to Afghanistan where al-Qaida and Taliban militants are known to operate. The suspected insurgents killed three of the men in a market in Wana, the region's main town, while the other five were killed in attacks on their homes, the security official said.

Baitullah recently gave the Pakistani government a week to cease all operations in Swat and North and South Waziristan. It appears the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan are now making good on their threat by going after pro-government tribal leaders. Baitullah is also the chief suspect behind the recent Bhutto assassination.

This action against tribal leaders is reminiscent of Al Qaeda in Iraq's tactic of threatening and killing Awakening tribal leaders in Al Anbar which along with the US surge of forces in Iraq, caused a backlash against Al Qaeda in the Al Anbar region with has rapidly grown throughout Iraq.

Musharraf has also had a surge of his own. During the recent emergency rule, he moved tens of thousand of his military forces from the India border of Kashmir to Swat and the Waristan regions to fight Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Since this time, these forces have liberated much of Swat and engaged in bombing targets in South Waziristan.

Musharraf will not fully engage Islamist in these regions until after the 18 February 2008 elections in order to not further destabilize his rule and/or his party's decline in the upcoming elections.

One can consider the ongoing attacks in these regions as part of Musharraf's shaping operations for the upcoming battles. Musharraf has prepositioned forces in this region where these forces got their first taste of battle in the relatively less entrenched Swat region, appointed a new Army Chief, GEN Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who is an expert at crisis management, has inside connections to the ISI, and is rather pro-western. He made arrangements for better air ground integration by accepting support of US Special Forces in Pakistan which will allow him to pinpoint targets for upcoming military actions. He made the case for the assassination of Bhutto against Baitullah Mehsud and therefore Al Qaeda and the Taliban in genreal causing them to lose more popular support. He has poised his country for movement to a democracy with upcoming elections on 18 February 2008. In addition, he amended the constitution such that he maintains control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to ensure it security, and possibly more important, his continuation of power until Pakistan becomes a fully transitions to democracy and its battle with Al Qaeda and the Taliban are over.

In terms of the instruments of power (diplomatic, information, military, economic), Musharraf has poised his country well for its upcoming battle. He has even successfully divided the insurgency in Pakistan to a certain extent. He has also adopted Indonesia's deradicalization program to help transistion radical Taliban in his country. Finally, he has positioned assets to buy over the Taliban insurgents with $800 million in aid in case, like Alexander the Great, he cannot win them over solely through military means.

2008 will be the year the Taliban and Al Qaeda are defeated in Pakistan, their last remaining safe haven. The beginning of 2008 in Pakistan reminds one of the the beginning of 2007 in Iraq. Al Qaeda and Sunnis had apparently gained strength and were looking at recapturing Iraq in total. However, a surge of US forces and diplomacy to further fracture the underlying Al Qaeda/Sunni tensions resulted in almost complete destruction of Al Qaeda in Iraq. So to in Pakistan has Musharraf poised forces and other assets to enhance fractures between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Just as Iraqis fought against the upcoming caliphate in Iraq noted by the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, so too will Pakistani fight against the Tehrik-i-Taliban.

Just as Al Qaeda made the mistake in establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, so too has Al Qaeda made the same mistake in establishing the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan. Just as Al Qaeda made the fateful mistake of assassinating Al-Risha in Al Anbar, so too has Al Qaeda made the same mistake in assassinating Bhutto.

Al Qaeda thrives by spreading fear, but as Ronald Reagan stated, "Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid". I agree with Amir Taheri, "No, Things Aren't falling apart" at least for Pakistan. In fact, all the conditions are set for 2008 to be a defeat for Al Qaeda in general as the conditions were set in 2007 for the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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No, Things Aren't Falling Apart

Amir Taheri has a great take on Pakistan in his latest article in the New York Post. As is always with Amir Taheri, he provides his own analysis, so below is his article in full.

THE death of Benazir Bhutto in a suicide-terror operation last week has pushed Pakistan, often regarded as a backwater in South Asia, into headlines as never before.

There's no doubt that Pakistan deserves attention, provided this isn't for the wrong reasons. Although Pakistan has been a key battleground in the global War on Terror since 2001, it's little understood (not to say much misunderstood) in the West.

One American pundit asserts that Bhutto's death represents "Washington's policy failure in Pakistan." The claim is based on the belief that Bhutto was nothing but an instrument of US policy.

But Benazir and Gen. Pervez Musharraf never did anything they didn't want to do simply because the Americans, or anybody else, asked for it.

Another myth since Benazir's death is that she was a victim of the Pakistani security services. The accusation is so childish that it wouldn't have merited attention had it not received global currency from conspiracy theorists.

Secret services may have hit men and hired assassins but don't have suicide killers. That's a specialty of Islamist terror groups. Had the Pakistani secret services wished to kill Benazir, they would've organized a massive explosion like the one that the Syrian secret service used to kill former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri in 2005.

Another myth is that Islamists are about to sweep the general election and seize power.

Today, Pakistani Islamists are at their weakest in terms of popular support. Their coalition, known as the United Action Assembly (MMA), has fragmented, its components spending more time fighting each other than their secular enemies.

In the last election, the Islamists collected some 11 percent of the votes. They would be lucky to do as well next week. Their best-known figure, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, may lose his seat.

The Islamists have held sway in the Northwest Frontier province, one of the four that constitute Pakistan, for four years and have a record of failures. They've proved the bankruptcy of their sick ideology. I doubt they would fool many Pakistanis much longer.

Although some 98 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims, few wish to live under anything resembling the Iranian regime.

Despite decades of misery under military rule, most Pakistanis cherish pluralism and free elections.

One British magazine has come out with a cover story that Pakistan is about to fall to the Taliban. This turns out to be based on a claim that "Taliban-like" groups are assuming power in parts of a mountainous enclave known as South Waziristan.

Readers might not know that the enclave covers half of 1 percent of Pakistan's territory.

South Waziristan's population is less than half a million, compared to the total Pakistani population of 169 million.

Even then, there's no evidence that the enclave is being taken over by Taliban-style groups or "Arab Afghans," as foreign terrorists are called.

What's happening is the emergence of new groups of young armed men, often wearing long hair and beards, looking for fame and fortune.

Basically, they're bandits, continuing a tradition begun more than 2,000 years ago. Alexander the Great tried to crush their ancestors by force, but failed. He then decided to use gold where steel had failed, and succeeded.

Today, too, the best policy would be buying the armed groups rather than "dishonoring" them in the battlefield, something no tribal warrior worth his salt would tolerate. (This is, perhaps, why Congress has just approved a package of $800 million for Waziristan.)

Finally, we are invited to worry because Pakistan's nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of the Taliban and/or al Qaeda.

There's no evidence, however, that the Pakistani army is about to fall apart or that the nuclear arsenal, put under Musharraf's direct control after he stepped down as army chief, is in any danger.

No, Pakistan isn't falling apart.

No, Islamists are not about to seize power.

There's no need to declare martial law, as some commentators suggest. There was no reason to postpone the elections.

Pakistan needs more, not less, democracy. The faster Pakistan returns to full civilian rule, the safer it will be - and with it the rest of us also.

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Musharraf: Bhutto bears responsibility for death

President Musharraf in an interview for 60 Minutes to be aired Sunday has apparently stated that Bhutto bears responsibility for her death.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf conceded that a gunman may have shot Benazir Bhutto but said the opposition leader exposed herself to danger and bore responsibility for her death, CBS News said on Saturday.

He appearently specifically said,

For standing up outside the car, I think it was she to blame alone. Nobody else. Responsibility is hers," Musharraf said in the interview taped on Saturday morning.

Musharraf also apparently conceded Bhutto was shot.

Musharraf was asked by CBS, which provided excerpts of the interview, whether a gunshot could have caused Bhutto's head injury. He replied, "Yes, yes."

The questioner asked, "So she may have been shot?" and Musharraf said, "Yes, absolutely, yes. Possibility."

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